Bloodlet - Entheogen (1996)
It’s hard to believe now, but Victory Records used to be the label to beat. The nature of their influence on hardcore and metalcore has changed, to say the least; but in the 90s, they were responsible for giving platforms to bands like Deadguy, Hatebreed, Integrity, and even Refused, all of whom hand a hand in crafting the metalcore boom of the new millennium. While Victory would succumb to the pressures of sales come the mid-00s and fall into disrepute shortly thereafter, once upon a time, they were also responsible for signing Florida’s Bloodlet and releasing Entheogen, an album that should have made them as big as any of those bands.
Bloodlet is an unusual beast. I’m compelled to say they were ahead of their time, but come back empty-handed when I go rummaging for similar acts in the years following their split. This mix of curb-stomp riffs, meandering song structures with a love for off-time grooving, and doomsday prophesying (a little more on that later) gives rise to a sound that’s as much “of its time” as it is wholly apart. Pair their “intelligent meathead” songwriting with a production job that makes the snare pop like a soda can and the guitars resemble hostile, muted buzzing more than guitars, and you’ve got quite a challenging listen.
Of course, the rewards are equal to the effort you put in. In some ways, Bloodlet prefigure the mathcore craze The Dillinger Escape Plan would take to its extremes. Their rhythm section, decked out with a restless drummer and a fretless bass guitar, is as capable of shuffling through atypical time signatues as they are coasting on simple mosh beats. On nine-minute odysseys like “The Triumph” and “95,” they tap into their jazz instincts to deliver groove after striking groove, underscoring all the muscular hardcore riffing and Scott Angelacos’s militant bark in shades and tones you just aren’t supposed to encounter this early in metalcore’s development. Their more artful aspirations, hinted at in these longer cuts, are constantly at war with Bloodlet’s love of moshpits. This is thinking-man’s metalcore, but it can get a pit going in minutes - which, incidentally, is all the time Bloodlet allowed fans. According to Aversionline, Bloodlet weren’t much for the spotlight:
They'd basically take the stage, play their entire set straight through without stopping, and disappear without uttering much of anything to the audience – other than perhaps a succinct, "We're Bloodlet."
Lyrically, Bloodlet focus on apocalyptic themes of social, classist, and especially religious tension without succumbing to the shock-and-gore that so much of the actual Florida death metal scene wallowed in, consciously or not providing Bloodlet another advantage over their peers. They’re no more fans of Christianity than their death metal relatives in the scene, and their stance is made clear by some lurid cover art (painted by Isis’s Aaron Turner and pictured below) and a penchant for subverting religious imagery. This anti-Christian aesthetic was so integral to their sound that they were sometimes labelled “evilcore,” which may or may not have been a joke - but it’s apt, in any case, for a band that can put the eerie “Shell” and the toothy hardcore of “Eucharist,” whose lyrics are pure vitriol, on the same album without coming off the least bit pretentious:
Oh the spirits cries sweet music set to the beat of a tormented heart complements the pain the soul dies Jesus wept the pain is what I live for it make me know I'm alive sharing in the misery of a thousand tortured minds my soul screams for the suffering of life with all my existence I embrace this twisted emotion passionately call me brother call me friend call me your son in my youth I gazed upon the basilisk I am stone this voiceless torment this suffering there is no greater love all paths chosen leading with twisted deception to the same place and as I go careening down that infinite black chasm hear me bellow amen
If there’s anything metalcore can learn from Bloodlet, it’s getting to the point. They may take inspiration from seemingly incompatible sources, but their mastery over their instruments and songwriting guarantees a certain uniformity of purpose. Like a good doom band, Bloodlet prefer slower, tightly-controlled compositions that allow them to exploit the power of just a handful of riffs, and they stick to an average four-minute runtime instead of letting their muses stretch a song out to unnecessary lengths - although as both “The Triumph” and “95” demonstrate, they can play the long game as well as anyone else. Corrosive beatdown for corrosive beatdown, Entheogen can often match the suffocating intensity of death metal, earning its “evilcore” moniker and then some.
This makes its title doubly appropriate. The word “entheogen,” meaning “a chemical substance...that is ingested to produce a non-ordinary state of consciousness for religious or spiritual purposes,” characterizes the album as a sort of gateway, a tool to help us ease deeper into the world of metalcore and its more extreme permutations. The toughguy-isms that hold Entheogen back from true greatness are also, paradoxically, what make it such an intriguing record. With better promotion from Victory Records and a little more luck, these traits may have helped them catch the attention of more forward-thinking listeners. Just imagine what we’d be listening to today if Bloodlet had achieved Deadguy’s level of influence, or even replaced them in the official canon - would we even have an American Metalcore Project?
The reality is that no one quite sounded like Bloodlet then, and no one quite sounds like them now; but around the same time Bloodlet rose to semi-prominence, there was already a contingent of underground bands busy establishing a movement, building a sound that would eventually take what Entheogen did much, much further.